The big news of the day was the surprise firing of head coach Matt Potter. Especially since it was a game day and he had reportedly led practice with the team on Tuesday (more on that firing here). However, the game must go on and the Current got straight to trying to right the ship during the 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup.
The Kansas City Current started the match with four changes. The first was in net, with Cassie Miller getting the start after a strong 2022 Challenge Cup over AD Franch who went to the bench. The other changes were new signing Croix Soto joining the starting lineup, joined by fellow central defender Addisyn Merrick and the return of the crucial striker Cece Kizer.
The Challenge is on 👊
— KC Current (@thekccurrent) April 19, 2023
The graphic doesn’t show it, but it was a back three/five with Soto, Robinson and Merrick playing CB. They were flanked by Kate Del Fava on the right and Izzy Rodriguez on the left. It could be argued they were more in the midfield next to the double pivot of LaBonta and DiBernardo. Debinha played attacking midfielder/false 9 while Kizer and Cooper played dual strikers. It was very reminiscent of the shape Kansas City played out of in 2022, ironic since their interim coach wasn’t even on the staff last year.
The Houston Dash made significantly more changes by changing eight women from the starting lineup that drew the Portland Thorns over the weekend.
— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) April 19, 2023
The first minor chance of the game came in the fourth minute when Izzy Rodriguez, who had moved to her more natural wingback role, crossed the ball into the box but missed the head of Cece Kizer right in front of the net.
Despite the “weaker” Dash lineup, they had a chance just moments later after a poor touch from Lo’eau LaBonta led to a Houston counter and dangerous opportunity inside the box that Miller would get a touch to, and the ball rolled slowly out for a corner kick. The Dash would keep the pressure on and in the ninth minute had a penalty shout. Despite the presence of VAR in the Challenge Cup, play was restarted rather quickly. It was sure close on the replay as Merrick had a lackadaisical moment and the attacker nearly rounded her casual run back to a ball in the box and they both tumbled to the ground.
There was a bit of back and forth over the next few minutes but in the 18th minute Merrick showed why she may not have been starting. She went to the ground in the box and Alozie just leaped over her but if she would have let her make contact it would have been a stone-cold penalty. It was reckless and unnecessary because Alozie was so far from goal and Merrick had support.
At the other end of the field in the 20th minute Vanessa DiBernardo created a quick chance out of nowhere as she pulled down a bouncing ball took a touch and just missed the far post with a curling effort.
In the 29th minute the Current had their best chance up to that point. After several miss-timed runs from Michelle Cooper where the subsequent pass left her offside, the team finally hooked up. Debinha connected with her on a nice through ball and she squared a ball across the frame of the net for a hard charging Izzy Rodriguez who is just beat to the ball by the Houston defender. Moments later Izzy makes another nice run and cuts back a ball to Cece Kizer for a sure-fire goal, but the AR prematurely raises her flag for offside. It was super close (on the pass to Izzy), but the instruction is to let that play out and VAR can fix it if the call was wrong.
Houston had a good chance of their own as Alozie beat Merrick but her shot is saved by the outstretched foot of Miller before the rebound took a deflection and went out for a corner.
The breakthrough would come for Kansas City in the 36th minute after they played out of the back on a goal kick. Arguably a heavy ball was played to LaBonta but she made a great effort to get to the ball and played it with the outside of her right foot over the top to Kizer who was in all alone on Jane Campbell who she would chip to give Kansas City their first lead of the year! KC would hold on until halftime up 1-0.
To start the second half, Chardonnay Curran replaced the still recovering DiBernardo. Both teams would have a handful of half chances until Houston made wholesale changes in the 58th minute, bringing in four subs, including Sanchez, Salmon and Ordonez, high quality attacking talent.
While Houston had complete control after the subs, it was Kansas City who would strike first. Completely against the run of play Debinha flicked a ball up the field to Del Fava who played a cross that Kizer stretched to get a touch too and it actually went off Houston’s CB Lind and into the net for an own goal (the broadcast said the official scoring a second Kizer goal, but this definitely looked like an own goal). 2-0 KC Current!
Almost immediately KC had another chance, but they played too slow, and their numbers never came to join Cooper, Debinha and Del Fava in the attack. That led to a double change, with Mallory Weber coming on for Izzy Rodriguez and Alexa Spaanstra replacing Debinha. This was Weber’s first appearance since going down at the beginning of the 2022 season with a catastrophic knee injury.
In the 77th minute the KC Current had another chance after Del Fava slid to win a ball in her half and then played it forward to Kizer. Cece made a flick over her defender to Cooper who was being closed down by the crashing Campbell. They nearly collided and Cooper ultimately whiffed on the shot and neither player got to it before Houston recovered and turned the play around.
Rylan Childers would replace Cooper for the team’s final sub. Houston would keep the pressure up but couldn’t generate much of a chance before bad news would strike Kansas City. Mallory Weber, just minutes after returning from a long injury, went down injured again and had to be helped from the field. KC was out of subs, so they’d play down a player the rest of the way. In 2022, she only played 19 minutes before going down with injury. She played about 31 tonight before leaving injured.
Kansas City would hold on to their 2-0 lead for their first win of 2023. It won’t go on their regular season record, but hopefully it will be a sign of things to come.
- The formation looked like a 3-4-3 with the starting lineup, with Debinha playing a bit of a false 9 more than an outright attacking midfielder, though she would drop deeper at times, and others both other forwards would do a lot of defensive work and she’d remain up top.
- I can see why Merrick isn’t starting. She went to ground in her own box with all too much frequency. She easily could have given up at least one penalty kick, if not more.
- The defense is a real concern for KC. Against a heavily rotated side, they still struggled. Without Elizabeth Ball, there are no elite defenders. Ball has struggles in her game, but they still are missing her. Maybe Hanna Glas will be elite (when she’s healthy) on the right side, though I think she’s more attack minded too.
- Gabby Robinson has too many turnovers for a CB. I’d be fine with her playing to her LWB (Izzy tonight) or her CB partner (Soto was to her right), but instead she’d try to play an Andreu Fontas style through ball but it would find a Houston player far too often.
- Debinha is an undoubtable talent, but her touch was a bit off still tonight. She had a few poorly weighted passes that came up short. When she cleans that up, and builds more chemistry with her team, she’ll be worth the price of admission.
- Cooper looked far better playing out wide. She would drift centrally at times, but most of her most dangerous play was making runs centrally from wide or running at defenders with pace.